Monday, June 29, 2009

Reading Stephen Cope: Unitive Experience & the Wild Woman in You

As you all know, my new black capezio dance shoes came a few days ago. The very next day, I really started to break them in. For close to an hour (my stamina needs to be rebuilt!), I danced!

And I danced! I mean, really danced. With no one to see me, I pushed myself, took risks, let go. There was no thinking, just doing. All my joint pain was just gone. All my anxiety was out the window. I was completely absorbed in this action, in this moment, in this music, in these senses.

I was mindless, I would have said many years ago. Of course, what I really was trying to say is that I was completely mindful.

After reading chapter four of Stephen Cope's The Wisdom of Yoga, I now understand dance to be, for me, a very powerful unitive experience and thus its importance -- its utter necessity -- in my life.

Cope writes: When all of our mental faculties become involved in the task at hand, action and awareness are drawn together. The mind becomes one-pointed. Distractions fade away. The pressure of time fades....There is no more reaching. Why bother looking elsewhere? Paradise is right here.

When I am dancing, there is nothing else.

But this unitive experience, for me, is not limited to dance.

And we cannot think that this is limited to moments on the mat or on the meditation cushion either. Actually, those moments are intended to be "practice" for the rest of our lives.

It is in the doing -- the fully doing -- of those activities that we were sent here to do that we fully become ourselves and become united with the larger universe or spirit.

I had a profound experience of this after an acting class in college where I presented my final monologue, which left the room full of students crying and my teacher, a professional theatre actress, breathless. When I left that room, the colors of the leaves on the trees, the sky -- it was all exploding in neons. Everything sparkled. I felt whole and totally open at the same time.

I had a profound experience of this when I was snorkeling in the Caribbean. I had no concept of where I was or how or if time were passing. All I knew was that I had dissolved into the Ocean and become one with the salty waters.

I had a profound experience of this when sitting on our back porch typing away at the last chapters of my novel, which seemed as if it had taken me over, was pouring through me.

It is in the doing...

Another tradition has much the same to say as Yoga in regards to Paradise.

In the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas, Christ says: The kingdom is inside you and it is outside you...when you know yourselves, then you will be known, and you will understand that you are children of the living (god). But if you do no know yourselves, then you dwell in poverty, and you are poverty.

Because this is what all of this is about, isn't it? Knowing ourselves and living from that knowing.

I recently have invited you to join an Eccentricity Revolution for Wild Women.

This is not just some flippant attempt to get us all wearing glitter and singing too loudly in public. (Though that would be just fine...)

This is about becoming who you were meant to be so that you might experience bliss -- or your own divinity which is infinite in each moment.

Knowing yourself, you will then have more of these unitive experiences and some day you may realize that your whole life is one big unitive experience and that there is no longer any need for a meditation cushion because your life is your meditation.

Think back. What moments can you identify as unitive experiences? What were you doing?

Why aren't you doing it now?

(Photo Credit, Christine C. Reed, Upper Lobby, Warner Theatre, Erie, PA, 2009)


Emma said...

"This is not just some flippant attempt to get us all wearing glitter and singing too loudly in public." Haha! I loved how you put that. :)

Wild and intuitive are really the same. If we are shedding the fears we've learned, we're getting back to our basic, most natural self.

(Of course, some fears are very natural. That could be a whole other topic. Some people want to relieve themselves of all fears and some people just the artificial fears we learn from manipulative socialization. Perhaps those are two different goals - the first to be more rawly human, the second to transcend humanity? Though people in the second category would probably say that their goal is the real goal of humanity, not a transcendence of it.)

"And we cannot think that this is limited to moments on the mat or on the meditation cushion either. Actually, those moments are intended to be "practice" for the rest of our lives."

Yes, yes, yes!

Hey, I just realized that I read this whole post replacing the word "unitive" with "intuitive." (Like in this comment!) What do you think about? They don't mean the same thing, literally. But to me this all works using the word "intuitive." I'm going to ponder what the difference in meaning would be hear with the actual word "unitive"...

Linda-Sama said...

"This is about becoming who you were meant to be so that you might experience bliss -- or your own divinity which is infinite in each moment."

walking to the easternmost point of India and seeing this sunset and Sri Lanka on the horizon....

and truly knowing that there is no duality.

Linda-Sama said...

"there is no longer any need for a meditation cushion because your life is your meditation."

Like Mark Whitwell says, stop meditating. You don't turn it on and off. Until one makes their yoga and their meditation their life, it's merely playacting.

holly - uk said...

ooh i simply adore dancing. its in my blood. i just love it. im just in utter BLISS when im dancing. couldnt live without it. it makes me feel more in my body. and the music in the nightclub just unites everyone. xx

Cyndee Greene said...

I am SO in the midst of the unitive experience. It is simply amazing! And thank you Christine for putting words to what I am doing. I was just saying to someone yesterday that I don't do any formal meditation. My life is simply & magnificently an opening of one moment to the next. I am in awe!
My next moment is in building up my stamina also. I love that you dance!

Graciel @ Evenstar Art said...

I love when I visit you, Christine, and you are seemingly peeking into my mind and/or walking a path next to mine. It happens regularly and it soothes me. Thank you with all my heart for the award. xo

p.s. I, too, read the word "unitive" as "intuitive"!

Sydney said...

Another wonderful post -- You are so incredibly prolific!

I'm back from my graduation etc... and feel like I have been out of the loop for so long. I guess with all the preparations in the weeks before, I was "gone" for about 6 weeks.

I totally related to your description of dancing. I used to do it in my house, just like you said, with capezios on, and wild abandon, for at least an hour on most days in my 20's through my mid 30's and in my 20's I went out a few nights a week to dance all night as well. As a result, my knees, back adn neck are shot and I have not been able to dance much at all with out paying a huge price... not just pain, chiros, Physical therapy, etc... for months. It's been a bitter pill.

As a result, I don't listen to music much anymore, because even samba and bossa nova makes me want to get up and move. But I am working on doing something about this... finding a way.

In the mean time, I feel totally in the moment when I am with animals, feeding or caring for them. I am fully present, and time is meaningless. I am in utter bliss. Ditto when I am writing. And when I am making playlists from my vast library of music. I like the idea of getting off the pillow and making your life your meditation.
But so many say BE STILL and KNOW. That in the silence and non-movement we find the things you write about. This is why I wrestle with meditation. Curious to know your further thought on this duality (Sounds like a new post to me, lol).

Thanks for your continued inspiration!

Tre ~ said...

Great sharing. How beautiful to know you let yourself go and dance and in those moments express SOUL so fully and completely....that release you freeing and so right...Goody for you and for sharin:)
So appreesh your outlook and tweets too. :) Hugs for your example of authenticity :)

Ellen said...

As usual, I have a different reading of chapter 4 Blisschick. I want to say first though that your philosophy is valid, and if I hadn't been reading and trying to engage with Stephen Cope, I'd say great - you are finding your true self in dance. And it is a good thing, becoming one with yourself and feeling great.

I re-read the chapter, and Cope is definitely talking about meditation. He does talk about the mind's innate ability to engage in concentrated states, such as while at the symphony, making love, or lying peacefully at the beach (his examples). These are wonderful states, and I'd say this is where dancing fits in for you. For me it might be becoming absorbed in a book or film which touches me in some deep way.

However, this is just a first step, a first taste. If we don't go on from this, we are not doing meditation or doing yoga in Cope's view, we are not training our minds to receive wisdom (whatever that may be).

"Patanjali's teachings will show us that deep states of mental absorption differ from our everyday one-pointedness even more than those seemingly concentrated states differ from ordinary states of sheer inattention."

So a state like dancing bliss would be stage two of a journey of the mind, but what Cope thinks we really should be after is stage three, a mental absorption gained through study of yoga and meditation.

There is no substitute for sitting on your butt and meditating if you wish to follow the path of yoga or Buddhism. Even if it's not a lot of fun a lot of the time. I am certain that Cope is saying this. You may not agree, and that is anyone's privilege.

Well, Blisschick, you have argued with me previously, so you see the problems that happen... :-)

Peace, Ellen

Christine Claire Reed said...

Ellen, yep. I get what Cope is saying. Totally. I just disagree.

For me, reading is all about finding my own way...

And for me (and I'm not alone here -- see Mark Whitwell, an international teacher of yoga), for me, meditation and yoga are actually first steps, and if we don't get up off the mat, we are missing the point. Again, the word "practice."

It's when we are fully engaged in our lives -- the dailiness, the joys, the hardships, the work -- that is where real living exists, and true meditation.

(For me, dancing is much like yoga in that I gain a stillness within movement.)

Seeing yoga and meditation as the end point is mistaking the map for the territory.

There are some great Whitwell videos on youtube, fyi. :)

Christine Claire Reed said...

I should have said...

My larger point, of course, is that there are as many paths to liberation as there are people on this planet. And not all those paths look as "formal" or "spiritual" as others.

It's really about being aware and awake, and whatever WAKES YOU UP is what works.

Linda-Sama said...

when Mark W. says "stop meditating", he does not mean literally. he means stop making it a separate part of your life. as I tell my students (repeatedly!), take your yoga and meditation off the mat and into your life. for me, it's not something I turn on and off because IT is a part of me just as much as I am a part of IT.

the space in between the shapes that we become (i.e., hopefully become not just do) in yoga are as much a part of the asana as the asana. there is no separation. the mindfulness in a pose continues into the space you create between the poses.

it's simple, at least to me it it. no duality. see the writings of Ramana Maharshi.

Christine Claire Reed said...

Exactly, Linda Sama, and thus the ability to be in meditation whether you are dancing or...meditating. :)


Maybe it the "Wild Woman" movement is more like the "Women Who Run With the Wolves" by Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Ph.D.

I aim to be of the "don't judge it, just do it" pack.

Be well.

svasti said...

The happiest times of my life are when I'm out of the way, and fully immersed in whatever I'm doing.

Such has been the case for every retreat I've attended, especially the last one in Thailand last year, where I was away from everything I knew, living in a bamboo hut, bucket bathing in circles of banana trees or skinny dipping in the pond. And integrating yoga, meditation, eating, working and sleeping into one beautiful package.

If was then I knew absolute peace.

Like you, dancing is another way to this same place. Whether performing (I'm a belly dancer) or just grooving on the dance floor, its the same. Although when performing, I find it to be an act of giving as well.

I'm not dancing at the moment, although I know I should be!! Mostly because I hate it that I'm carrying more body weight than I'd like to be and I don't like the way my body feels when dancing as a result. But doh! If I'd just get back into the dancing, I'd soon find I like the way my bpdy feels more and more... ;)

We are our own worst enemy, but we don't have to be!

I think my biggest issue is letting myself go that place where: "all of our mental faculties become involved in the task at hand, action and awareness are drawn together" - once I'm there, its not a problem at all...

Bee said...

Hi blisschick,
I love that you wrote about unitive experiences as I've been thinking about them a lot lately.

When I think back to unitive experiences I've had, they are often not 'exciting'; rather they are just times when I have been fully engaged in the moment with no thoughts of past or future. One example is a memory from my teenage years, lying on my stomach on the cool grass during summer, reading a book, legs burning in the summer sun. The vividness of the blue sky and green grass comes to mind, the sounds of bird song and the breeze, the feel of warmth on my skin. I was completely engrossed in my novel, not making plans, not wishing for anything to be different.

As we become more mindful, we can regularly have these experiences in our daily lives: if we are washing our dishes we can feel the warmth of the water, smell the scent of the liquid, see the exquisite's about being in the moment and tapping into sensory experience rather than thinking about what you're going to do later.

The world offers us so many rich experiences, don't you think?

Christine Claire Reed said...

Teri Rees, oh, yes, I would love to re-read Pinkola-Estes. Hmmmm....

Svasti, I hear you about the extra weight and being uncomfortable. But EXACTLY. If we start dancing, how quickly our bodies will say "thank you!" Don't let it stop you. Boogie! My body is so WEAK (in dancing ways) and my stamina sucks, but I know if I keep going...

Bee, Beautifully put. How many summer days I have done the same as you describe? And yes, there is always something to pull us into the moment, into ourselves, into unity.